Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 22, 2011

Lawyers, Puns & Money: More Break-Up Songs

Another couple of “old hands” offer today’s breakup songs: the late, great Warren Zevon, and well-traveled singer/guitarist Adrian Belew. And no… I’m not pulling in Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns & Money”. It’s a great song, but I’m just using the title as a hook… and a reference to some of the stuff that we get to deal with in a divorce… so hopefully guns won’t fall into that category.

— —

This one I actually went looking for. I figured that Zevon– one of the funnier, darker, and more brutally honest confessional songwriters –had weathered the storm of a divorce and written about it. And sure enough, I found Empty-Handed Heart, from the 1980 album Bad Luck Streak in Dance School. The lyric itself does not feature Zevon’s signature cynicism and dark humor, but is more of a sincere, straightforward love song written to his ex-wife Crystal. Despite separating for good reasons, I’ll always have certain feelings for Sue, and we had many good years.

Empty-Handed Heart – Warren Zevon (1980)

(orig. “Bad Luck …” album recording features Linda Ronstadt singing the ‘descant’)

All these empty places
I try so hard to fill
Will I find another love?
I pray to God I will
Girl, we had some good times
But time does not stand still
It’s rolling like a rockslide down a hill

I’ve met someone I care for
I know she cares for me
Will I fall in love again?
It’s a possibility
Girl, we had some good times
That time cannot undo
No one will ever take the place of you

Heart-jinxed condition
Never sure how I feel
Trying to separate the real thing
From the wishful thinking
Sometimes I wonder
If I’ll make it without you
I’m determined to

I’ll make my stand
And if after all is said and done
You only find one special one
Then I’ve thrown down diamonds in the sand
Then I’ve thrown down diamonds in the sand
Then I’ve thrown down diamonds in the sand
Then I’ve thrown down diamonds in the sand

Descant (sung over the top of the above “diamonds” section) :
Remember when we used to watch the sun set in the sea
You said you’d always be in love with me
All through the night, we danced and sang
Made love in the morning while the church bells rang

Leave the fire behind you and start
I’ll be playing it by ear
Left here with an empty-handed heart

— — — — — — — — — — — — —

The War in the Gulf Between UsAdrian Belew

This one is a late addition to this week’s collection of divorce/break-up songs, that I just rediscovered while listening to my CD of Belew’s “Inner Revolution” album (1992). Belew’s rep, among other things, is his ability to combine Beatle-esque songwriting with more avant-garde, virtuoso guitar-playing. Thus he’s been a studio musician and touring sideman for such greats as Talking Heads, David Bowie, Laurie Anderson and Frank Zappa, in addition to his leadership of King Crimson since the early ’80s, and numerous solo projects. I first got a glimpse of his sense of humor and writing about family life upon hearing his minor 1989 radio hit “Oh Daddy” [Oh crap! ’89?! I’m getting old… click thru to the video tho… it’s cute]. That one was a funny song from the perspective of his young daughter, asking the cult-hero rocker when he was gonna “be a big star”. By now we know: most likely never.

On the other hand, his divorce song is a bit more serious. Yet it still includes the titular pun in the chorus, plus the line about lawyers eating their clients remains. Adrian’s voice, the melody, and the twang bar guitar work all remind me a lot of George Harrison, particularly George’s later solo work.

[However, I couldn’t find a playable URL to let you hear it, and my attempt to upload it didn’t work somehow. Maybe you’ll have better luck if you do a search– and if so, let me know.]

The War in the Gulf Between Us – Adrian Belew

It started long ago, you have to understand
We thought we’d make a life, we thought we had a plan
We built it like a house and filled it up with kids
The only trouble is
I won’t be back again

Cause something in my heart has taken to the wind
And nothing I can do will bring it back again
Nobody ever wins the war in the gulf between us
Something in my heart no longer could survive
Those battles in the day, the quiet in the night
I lost the will to fight the war in the gulf between us

And then it all began, the quarrels and the moods
I tip-toed all around you; you danced around me too
And somewhere in between we found the time for love
The only trouble is
It never was enough


What was the sense in keeping alive
Something that never made us satisfied
Sometimes it’s better to get on with your life
I don’t believe in hurting each other all the time

Now after all the lawyers have eaten our remains
And after all the nights have swallowed up the pain
Then maybe we will meet, we’ll find a neutral place
The only trouble is
What will we have to say?

Well something in our hearts will have to try and give
And something in our hearts will have to learn to live
Together and apart without another war between us


A bonus today: though it’s not officially a break-up song, my friend Denise put me onto a nice song by Sara Groves about the difficulty of making a major life change. Also, the songs I’ve featured the past few weeks are heavily male, … i.e. they shy away from the more poppy “I Will Survive” and other chick favorites. So Sara balances it out some.

To discuss an unknown future and things outgrown in the present, it uses the metaphor of the Hebrews having to leave Egypt for the unknown “promise” across the desert. The song is called “Painting Pictures of Egypt”. Presented here with a reminder — to myself and any reader — that inner freedom usually comes through a hard journey, by playing “follow the Leader” :


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